If you had asked me a couple of years ago about VAWG I wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about. Now we are all too aware of the issue of violence against women and girls. In the last year alone, we have all been shocked and saddened to hear the news of the attacks on and violent deaths of several women. The murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 sparked national outrage and calls for more action to tackle violence against women. The murders of Caoimhe Morgan in Belfast in December and Ashling Murphy in Co Offaly in January have raised questions about the protection of women and girls from violence on this island.

Leah Houston is in her second year studying theology at Belfast Bible College and currently on placement with us at the Evangelical Alliance NI. Here, Leah shares her thoughts and feelings considering the murder of Ashling Murphy:

It could have been my friend, it could have been my sister, it could have been me. The unjust killing of Ashling Murphy is unfortunately just another reminder to every young girl in the country that our greatest fear when we are out and about now isn‘t if we will get a flat tyre on the drive home from our daily walk, but rather if we will even make it home from our daily walk alive. As a young woman living in Northern Ireland, this nightmare has become a tragic reality that not only happens in large towns or cities but could be as close to us now as the very forest near our house, in broad daylight. 

I think I speak on behalf of all the young women in this country when I say that it has become our standard protocol to always walk in twos, text when we arrive home, be crippled with fear as our friends go on dates with guys or even fake talking on the phone to look as if our friend meeting us is just around the corner. 


My heart dropped on hearing the breaking news on TV. Disappointed and frustrated at the new reality of our world, scared that the next victim could be me, anxious as I frantically try to think up new places to go where it might be safer” to walk, reconsidering my own walk alone down my own road tomorrow. I can‘t help but wonder though, do I need to be this scared? 

As a young Christian woman living in our very broken world, my heart breaks at the unjust eradication of another young life created with beauty, purpose, dignity, and value. My heart longs for a church that recognises the reality that is gender-based violence, provides awareness around it and deeply loves and pastorally cares for all those involved.”

Leah’s words highlight the impact that these murders have on the everyday lives of women everywhere and the fear that they breed in us. Just last weekend I walked through Coleraine town centre at 7pm where one street felt a bit more isolated and poorly lit; without doubt, I picked up my pace and had my phone in hand just in case. But as Leah says, I can‘t help but wonder though, do I need to be this scared?” 

Thankfully, statistically, these kind of attacks and murders by strangers on the street are rare, but of course, these are the stories that receive most media attention and serve to reinforce our fears, and these fears must be recognised.

However, what is not so rare, is the wide-ranging ways in which women experience violence every day due to domestic violence, emotional abuse, stalking, revenge porn, upskirting and more. Sadly one in four women in Northern Ireland experience domestic abuse and therefore some women in your street, your church or your family could be affected. Unfortunately, Covid has further exacerbated the situation for many women and girls.

The biblical vision for women and girls does not include living in fear of stranger danger” or in fear of men they live with, work with or go to school with. Jesus’ regard for women was counter-cultural in the first-century Roman world. Jesus exemplified high regard and value for women; He regularly addressed women directly which amazed those watching on (John 4:27) and He spoke to them with tenderness and on an equal status with men, calling them daughters of Abraham” (Luke 13:16). Jesus modelled how to honour women and continually showed their worth and dignity.

So how can the church recognise and respond to this current public conversation in a Christ-like way? Here are three ways that your church might like to begin:

1. Why not provide a talking space in your church programme of events where women can share their experiences in a safe environment? This is a conversation that should start with women, but the wider conversation must include men. It would be great to see women and men champion this cause together.

2. If your church is in the Lisburn or Belfast area, you can avail of the domestic abuse awareness training from Women’s Aid specifically for church leaders. Find out more and sign up here.

3. Share your views with the NI Executive Office on two new strategies they are developing on domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. You can either fill in the online questionnaire or email your response. Find out more here. How about gathering women and girls in your church to respond collectively? It’s not as difficult as it might look. If you’d like some guidance, then email me directly at d.​mcelhinney@​eauk.​org